book review

Review: This is Not a Spectacle by Isabelle Kenyon

Title: This is not a Spectacle (Extended Edition)

Author: Isabelle Kenyon

Publisher: Amazon Createspace

Publication Date: 4th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Genre: Poetry

Page Count: 66

Summary: ” The extended version of This Is Not a Spectacle explores human curiosity towards strangers and investigates where curiosity becomes fascination with another’s grief or misfortune from afar.
Split into six sections, the poems range from my experiences of a car accident, my own fascination of others and strangers’ impressions of me.
It is an expression of anger from those who least want to be stared at and be put on display.” (Source: Goodreads)

Content Warnings: poverty, death, allusion to current events such as the Syrian war, domestic violence, sweatshops, body image, sexual language, homelessness, injury detail, elderly family members, alcohol and substance abuse, dementia, occasional strong language, sexual predation, sexual assault, bodies being objectified

Rating: ★★★ (3 stars)

I first discovered Isabelle Kenyon’s work on Twitter, which is where I normally find indie authors and/or poets. The premise of This is not a Spectacle intrigued me as it observes people from all walks of life. The poetry collection is divided into 6 sections, each section pertaining to an area of society more or less. 

First of all, I must say that I’ve not read anything quite like Kenyon’s collection before. It is not an easy, peaceful read, and I believe that is the purpose of this poetry book. Kenyon subjects the reader to examine those in society who are often “a spectacle”, for example, the poor and the homeless.

My main criticism of the collection is that it counters its main concept, the collection becomes the spectacle. The blurb of the collection mentions that “it is an expression of anger from those in society who least want to be stared at”, so as I read this, I wondered why Kenyon decided to compose it in the first place. Surely those observed in the collection would be angered to find out that they are the focus of a poetry collection where their lives are examined and scrutinised? 

THIS IS NOT A SPECTACLE. CAN EVERYONE PLEASE (PISS OFF).

from ‘Homeless’, p.14

This is from Kenyon’s poem, Homeless, and when I read this, I felt great sadness for the person in this poem. The title of the collection is evidently drawn from these words which made me uncomfortable also. In essence, I feel like the collection doesn’t respect these people at all. This may just be my reading of it. 

Perhaps the collection is deliberately upsetting, that it is supposed to draw attention to those marginalised in society as it is the only way they will receive attention. I am still undecided on that one. 

However, Kenyon’s writing evokes stirring imagery, so much so that you truly feel that you are there as an observer. The attention to detail in some of the poems was astounding, particularly in the section about the elderly. Also, some of Kenyon’s poems were from their own perspective, which I very much preferred as the poems were much more personal, in particular, the poem ‘Identity: Granny Olga’; it brought me to tears. 

Have you read This is not a Spectacle by Isabelle Kenyon? What did you think? Let me know below!

Until next time, be brave & bookish!

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